NBC News locks in Williams till 2002

NEW YORK — NBC anchor Brian Williams has extended his contract for two more years, to 2002, in a deal announced Friday, a day after the network reupped “Nightly News” anchor Tom Brokaw.

The extension of Williams’ contract is meant to quell speculation of his intentions, with Brokaw now committed to the “Nightly News” chair for five more years. Williams has been all but anointed as Brokaw’s heir apparent.

In a flurry of contract signings, NBC News this week also is expected to reup Tim Russert, who anchors Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” with a contract extension that will keep him there until 2002.

Williams’ signing includes a raise and additional GE stock options, as well as “golden handcuff” provisions that offer incentives to stay beyond the contract period. He is paid an estimated $1 million to $2 million a year under the new pact, while Brokaw will earn $7 million.

In an interview, Williams, 38, called the early renegotiations by GE and NBC brass “part of their M.O.”

“It’s taking care of your free agents, like any NFL team, even though I wasn’t a free agent. They looked at me as someone they wanted locked in,” Williams said.

NBC News prexy Andy Lack called Williams “an integral part of NBC’s current and future success.”

Williams’ job description won’t change: He’ll continue to anchor “The News With Brian Williams” on MSNBC, which also is airing temporarily on CNBC. He also anchors the “NBC Nightly News” on Saturdays, and is Brokaw’s main substitute anchor during the week.

The wry anchor joined NBC as a correspondent in 1993 from WCBS New York, and became the chief White House correspondent in 1994. He became the principal anchor at MSNBC upon its launch in July 1996.

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